Conversation on homelessness focuses on Legislature

cathy-you
Dimitri Groce (left), member organizer for WA Low Income Housing Alliance, explains … (Photo by Cathy You)

Approximately 15 people gathered in the University Congregational Church on Wednesday morning to discuss homelessness and mobilization for homeless services and affordable housing.

A very tall man wearing sweats, a black UW sweatshirt, and a beanie sat in the back. He goes by Bryan, and didn’t want to be identified in this article given his current situation.

Bryan just recently became homeless, and is still dealing with the life-altering shock of what that means in his mind. Right now he’s living in the recently moved Tent City 3, which now sits on the UW Seattle campus in parking lot W35. The area can host up to 99 people.

“I’m three weeks in,” Bryan said of being homeless. “It just happened. We had plans, and it fell through last minute.”

He recounted a housing situation that left him and his girlfriend living in a box truck they had bought for moving.

Via The Daily

The two were left with no other option but to use it as a place of residence when Washington state’s first freeze hit this winter. Bryan had previously had a negative perception of those who became homeless, which in part is why he struggles with his new situation.

“I was as naive and close-minded about it as anybody else,” Bryan said. “[My girlfriend and I] couldn’t even say the word [homeless] for a week or so.”

Though Tent City 3 has an Amazon Wish List, Bryan and two other Tent City 3 residents specified that while they get a lot of donations, they’re not always quite what the residents need. Some items that would be much appreciated are hand warmers, nonperishable foods, and cans of soup.

“We want people leaving here today knowing things you can do or can show others to do,” said Nancy Amidei, one of the conveners of the University District Conversation on Homelessness. 

The homeless advocacy community in Seattle is worried about this upcoming legislative session, one that will decide where funds go for the next two years. This is a typical pressure, however. What really raises the stakes this year is McCleary decision — the federal demand for Washington state to give specific funding to public schools, which hasn’t been met — and the incoming Trump administration.

“I don’t want to say it’s bleak, but there’s work to do, even with our allies,” said Dimitri Groce, a member of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA). “We are in for a challenging session, which is why we need our advocates out there.”

WLIHA is subsequently asking for the biggest housing investment of the Legislature to date: $200 million for the Housing Trust Fund. The fund is a main artery to the heart of affordable housing set aside for those within the zero to 30 percent median income bracket. 

The $200 million would build 5,700 new affordable homes, designated to stay affordable for 40 years.

Groce explained another item on their policy agenda: source of income discrimination. People in Renton who relied on their Section 8 vouchers to afford housing were forced to vacate their residences simply because they used that form of income to pay their rent. 

“This is a pretty egregious proxy for discrimination,” Groce said, noting that these vouchers are used by people of color, single families, and veterans. 

While the prohibition of source of income discrimination exists in certain jurisdictions, it isn’t statewide.

Amidei recommended that if people want to get others involved, they need to assume others don’t know how the process of combating homelessness works. When people bring up jargon or reference things they expect others to know, it intimidates potential advocates from joining because they don’t understand what’s being discussed.

“There’s things we can all do if we use a little common sense,” Amidei said. 

People can call their district legislators, host a virtual lobby day if they can’t make it to an event, or sign up for legislative email alerts. She even suggested holding fake phone calls on the bus about advocacy issues and how someone can get involved. 

When it comes to the Legislature, call your legislative office and ask how your story could best be heard (email, phone, appointment). Assistants compile every call the office receives, with every name, but only choose specific stories that stand out for their legislator to read. The types of elevator pitches that typically make it regarding policy are personal stories. 

“The fact that things like this exist, sharing strategies and networking, is so encouraging,” Bryan said. 

He had no idea there are pockets groups in Seattle that come together in the community to help the homeless.

Relevant upcoming events:

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